Paternalism -- Groups vs Individuals

Last registered on December 21, 2020


Trial Information

General Information

Paternalism -- Groups vs Individuals
Initial registration date
December 21, 2020

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
December 21, 2020, 11:23 AM EST

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.



Primary Investigator

University of Mannheim

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
University of Cologne
PI Affiliation
University of Cologne
PI Affiliation
University of Muenster

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Many paternalistic decisions are made by groups. For example, political parties and government bodies pass laws that restrict the choice sets of citizens, parents restrict the choices of their children and board of directors make decisions that affect the choices of the firm's employees. A small strand of literature has studied why, when and how individuals act paternalistically, but there is no evidence on the paternalistic behavior of groups. However, it is widely acknowledged that groups often behave differently than individuals. Motivated by these considerations, the objective of this study is to investigate paternalism among groups and to study if there are differences in acting paternalistically between individuals and groups. We design a controlled laboratory experiment to study our research questions.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Doerrenberg, Philipp et al. 2020. "Paternalism -- Groups vs Individuals." AEA RCT Registry. December 21.
Experimental Details


Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
- Paternalism decision of Choice Architects in Stage 2: no paternalism, soft paternalism, or hard paternalism

- Selection into group: how many subjects and which types of subjects select into groups to make the paternalism decision.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Delegation Decision in stage 4
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
How do Choice Architects make paternalism decisions?
Experimental Design Details
We run laboratory experiments. Subjects in the role of “Choosers” have to make different types of decisions (in random order): i) a decision between options which differ with respect to the point of time when money payments are received: either immediately or in six months, where impatience is designed to be costly (intertemporal decision). ii) a decision between options that differ in the distribution of money payments to a charity aiming to reduce Co2 emissions and to oneself (social decision). Subjects in the role of "Choice Architects" are informed about the decision types and decision options of Choosers and decide which choice options are available to Choosers in future experiments. Choice Architects are provided three possibilities for their paternalism decisions: i) no intervention and leaving the full choice set to Choosers (no paternalism), ii) recommend against options that are available to Choosers (soft paternalism), iii) forbid single options and restricting the choice set of Choosers (hard paternalism).

The experimental part that involves Choice Architects has four stages and all Choice Architects go through all four stages. The second stage differs across (between-subjects) treatment arms.

Stage 1: Choice Architects make individual paternalism decisions.
Stage 2: Choice Architects make paternalism decisions (same ones as in stage 1)). The way the paternalism decision is made in stage 2 varies across four treatment arms. See below for more details on the treatment arms.
Stage 3: Belief elicitation: Participants are asked to guess how people make their intertemporal and social decision in situations with unrestricted choice set. The belief elicitation is incentivized.
Stage 4: Delegation: In a final stage, participants are asked whether they want their own decision from Stage 1 to be replaced by the decision of a random other participant.

Subsequently and before finishing the experiment, subjects fill out a questionnaire which includes questions on: standard demographics, views on real-world paternalistic problems (e.g., sugar tax), 'paternalistic' behavior of subjects in the real world (i.e., if they are engaged in political parties, student body groups, etc.), political attitudes, and engagement in the protection of the environment and climate.

The between-subject treatment variation in stage 2 is as follows:

Exogeneous Individual: Paternalism decision is made individually
Exogenous Group: Two subjects are randomly assigned to form a group. The two group members communicate via chat and have to find a group decision. The consented paternalism decision of the group is then implemented.
Endogenous Individual: Subjects are asked whether they want to make an individual paternalism decision in stage 2. If yes: they make another individual paternalism decision; If no: they move to stage 3.
Endogenous Group: Subjects are asked whether they want to make the paternalism decision in stage 2 as part of a group. If yes: they make a paternalism decision as part of a group; If no: they move to stage 3. The motivation behind this treatment is twofold: i) study how many and which types of subjects select themselves into group decisions, ii) study if endogenous groups differ in paternalistic behavior relative to exogeneous groups and individual decision-making.

We thus have a fully crossed 2x2 design with dimensions exogenous vs endogenous and group vs individual. Variation is both between and across experimental sessions. We vary dimension individual vs group within experimental session. Dimension exogenous vs endogenous is varied across experimental sessions.

Payment: Choice Architects receive a flat fee of 10 EUR for participating in the experiment and, in addition, receive a bonus in the context of the belief elicitation in stage 3.

Analysis: We compare the paternalism decisions in stage 2 across the four treatment arms. In this context, we examine if subjects intervene at all (dummy indicating either soft or hard paternalism vs no intervention) and we explore how exactly they intervene (3-point-scale variable capturing no intervention, soft paternalism, hard paternalism). We also compare stage 2 decisions to stage 1 decisions. In addition, we consider the treatments Endogenous and study how many and which types of subjects select to make paternalism decisions and how many and which types of subjects select into groups to make paternalism decision. The Delegation decision in stage 4 is also of interest for us (e.g., how many and which types of subjects make use of delegation). In additional analyses, we study the role of beliefs about Choosers behavior for paternalism and we relate decisions in the experiment to the answers in the questionnaire at the end of the experiment (for example to study heterogeneity and to link the paternalism decisions to real-world behavior).

In addition to the above described experimental setting, we will collect observations about intertemporal and social decisions of Choosers with unrestricted Choice Sets. These observations are used for incentivizing Choice Architects in stage 3 and to collect information about behavior of Choosers in a situation with unrestricted choice set.

In a reasonable amount of time after the experiments involving Choice Architects we run sessions where Choosers make intertemporal and social decisions where, in the available choice sets of Choosers, we implement the decisions of Choice Architects.
Randomization Method
randomization done in office by a computer
Randomization Unit
both within experimental sessions and across experimental sessions (see description of experimental design)
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
610 (at least)
Sample size: planned number of observations
610 (at least)
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
We aim to have at least 100 independent observations in each treatment arm. Because decisions of subjects who are part of a group in stage 2 cannot be treated as independent observations, we have the following number of subjects per treatment arm:

Exogenous Individual: 100
Exogenous Group: 200
Endogenous Individual: 100
Endogenous Group: 200 (or more, depending on how many individuals select to be part of a group)

In addition: collect 10 individual observations about intertemporal and social decisions of Choosers with unrestricted Choice Sets.

In addition: Subjects in the roles of Choosers
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Ethics Committee University of Cologne
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials